A team of researchers working to perfect 3D–printed ovaries for infertile women have successfully tested their creation in mice. The mice, whose real ovaries were surgically replaced with the 3D–printed variety, successfully conceived and gave birth to healthy pups. The lab–created ovaries even triggered lactation.
3D–printed organs have been made before. However, these new ovaries–created by a team from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and McCormick School of Engineering– are the first to be made with a 3D–printed gelatin scaffolding.
Perfecting this scaffolding has proven diffult– the structure had to be durable enough to hold together through the implantation procedure and carry the eggs, but also porous enough to function.
Countless previous attempts saw the scaffolding fall apart.
“The most difficult part of the experiment was to ensure that the 3D printed scaffold could support the spherical architecture of the ovarian follicles,” study co–author Dr. Monica Laronda told Fox News. “It is essential that the sphere is maintained throughout the differentiation of a follicle, from carrying an immature egg to ovulating a mature egg.”
Using a 3D printer packing a gelatin–firing nozzle, the gelatin was 3D–printed into 15mm x 15mm strips that overlapped in different ways to produce the scaffolding. The ovarian follicles (the fluid–filled sacs containing the immature egg) were then introduced. Once the team established that the follicles could survive for over a week, they implanted the bioprosthetic ovaries into seven mice. The mice’s blood vessels were able to successfully integrate with the porous gelatin, which kept the ovaries functioning.
Three of the seven mice were able to become pregnant and give birth after mating. They were even able to nurse their pups thanks to the hormones produced by the new ovaries.
The team also faced difficulties attempting to remove the mouse ovaries and replacing them with the bioprosthetic ones in the same location without disrupting any of the female reproductive tract.
Precision surgery on small mice is difficult– but Laronda’s team will have a bigger space to work with during the next trial as they plan on implanting larger animals (such as pigs) with the ovaries.
The end goal is to create bioprosthetic ovaries that can be used by women rendered infertile from diseases like cancer or their medical treatments, though human trials are likely years away.
“I think we will see reasonable progress in next 5 years,” study co–author Dr. Teresa Woodruff told Fox News.
“We need to make sure that human follicles will respond to this 3D printed material and design with the same success,” Laronda added. “One good thing about 3D printing is that we can adjust whatever needs to be adjusted to humans and can scale the bioprosthetic ovary to human-size.”